Back to Wellesbourne with a low hours Student Pilot

While negotiating an aircraft swap recently, I got talking to Sean. He’s a 16 year old who got the taste for flying with the ATC, and is now working towards gaining his PPL. I wish I’d been able to learn to fly before I could even legally drive a car!

I’m always on the lookout for people to share a flight with me (while it’s nice to fly alone sometimes, I do enjoy having company along!) so we arranged to fly together this weekend. Obviously I’m not an Instructor so he would be unable to log any flight time, but at least it’d hopefully give him a bit of a heads up as to what to expect as regards Navigation and landing away in readiness for him covering those aspects of the PPL syllabus later.

As we neared the weekend I had some concerns about the weather, so we ended up opting for a ‘safe’ trip up to Wellesbourne. The direct route there is relatively featureless and I’ve had problems with the Nav in that area myself, so coupled with that and the desire to increase the flight time, I elected to head out to the West, routing via Hereford and Worcester.

Yet again there was another one hour slot booked immediately before mine. This is a bit of a personal gripe of mine (realistically, a 1 hour aircraft booking gives you 20 or 30 minutes time in the air at best) but this time the previous pilot was considerate enough to turn up in good time and even set off for his flight slightly early. There had also been some flying restrictions yesterday between 1200 and 1500, with a chance that these restrictions would be repeated today so I was concerned that if the previous booking ran over then I wouldn’t even be allowed to leave before the 1200 deadline.

Sean arrived while the aircraft was away, and we got to know each other a bit better while waiting for the aircraft to return. I had marked up one of my old charts with the route so that he could follow along in the air and we went through that while we waited. There was also a NOTAM for some model rocket launches just to the South of Wellesbourne, so I took the time to call the contact number on the NOTAM to find out exactly what to expect and where the actual launches would take place. This was the reason for the slight dog leg in the planned route from Wellesbourne to Brize on the return leg.

I’d planned two return routes in case Brize couldn’t grant us a Zone Transit, the ‘safe’ route heading back out to the West towards the Chedworth Disused, before heading back South towards Lyneham.

I was handed over the aircraft fully fueled just 10 minutes after the ‘official’ start of my booking, so fortunately all went well. After a quick walk around, Sean and I headed out to the aircraft after I’d booked us out. I asked as to the possibility of an ILS or PAR recovery on return and was told that they would probably be too busy. I decided I would probably ask again once back on frequency if they didn’t seem too busy.

As we settled into the aircraft and got ourselves ready the Firefly was being readied by another pilot. I followed him out and was initially given taxy instructions to the 18 loop as usual. However once the Controller realised we would both need to do power checks in the relatively confined space, I was offered to head down to the ‘official’ 24 hold at the very start of the runway. I accepted this, and initially had some problems seeing the hold line itself! The marker board for the hold we (eventually) spotted some way off to the right quite some distance from the taxyway, and the line itself was slightly obscured by a change of surface and some slight undulations.

I managed to get the power checks out of the way before the Firefly pilot (in fairness he also had to exercise the variable pitch prop and was probably giving a more thorough briefing to his first time passenger) and we were ready to go ahead of him. We were given an immediate take off clearance, and headed out to the runway ready to go.

It was quite a windy day, but the wind was aligned pretty much with the runway. Despite this I needed a significant amount of crab to maintain the runway centreline after takeoff. At 500 feet we made the turn to the North West and headed out of the Zone, soon joined on frequency by the Firefly as it departed behind us.

We passed relatively close to Kemble, routing via Stroud in order to thread the gap between the glider fields at Nympsfield and Aston Down. We ended up slightly closer to Aston Down than I would like, so I made a slight course correction as we passed to try to give us a bit more clearance. Sean was doing a good job of maintaining a lookout as the field passed down his side of the aircraft, and he kept an eye on the gliders on the ground and a look out for any others in their circuit.

As we approached Stroud I called Gloucester for a Basic Service, and for the first time ever was told that they would be unable to provide this. The Controller did sound incredibly busy, and I later remembered that they had a flying event on that day, with a number of pilots providing their aircraft for passenger rides for a charity flying day. I listened out on the frequency as we headed towards Hereford in order to maintain a picture as to where the traffic was.

Along this leg I handed control over to Sean to give him a chance to try his hand at flying a route. Initially he made the mistake most low hours students make (I know I certainly did!) of ‘overcontrolling’ the aircraft and focusing on the instruments too much. I pointed this out to him after a short while and demonstrated that you could almost leave the aircraft to its own devices and it would tend to recover from any deviations from track caused by wind and the like. After a while he soon got the hand of it, and was soon doing a pretty good job. There were some height deviations and I asked him to climb us back up at one point, before realising that he hadn’t even done the ‘climbing and descending’ exercise yet! I talked him through the procedure to climb back up 500 feet or so.

We passed by Ross on Wye, finding it a little difficult to spot the M50 as we passed over, and soon had Hereford identified ahead of us. Overhead I told Sean the new course and had him turn us so as to head over to Worcester, the next turning point. Again this was easily identified (one of the reasons I chose these two turning points!) and we made the final turn to head towards Wellesbourne.

Turning overhead Worcester

Turning overhead Worcester

We had been on frequency with Wellesbourne since leaving Gloucester as we neared Hereford, and I was a little surprised at how quiet the field seemed. I went there a few times during my training when it was difficult to get a word in edgewise on the radio! As we approached Alcester I gave them a call and received the necessary information for joining the circuit. As we approached Stratford upon Avon another aircraft reported at the same position, 500 feet above us. We didn’t manage to see him, but it was clear he was some way ahead when he reported overhead Wellesbourne just as we cleared Stratford ourselves.

I spotted him descending on the deadside as we approached the overhead, and followed him around the circuit, doing my best to keep clear of Wellesbourne itself on the descent, and the other local villages as we continued around the circuit. Wellesbourne is slightly unusual in that its main runway is oriented North – South, so it often has a full 90 degree crosswind. The forecast for the area had included a possibility of 15 knot winds gusting to 25 knots, but fortunately these hadn’t materialised and we had a relatively low 9 knot crosswind to contend with.

Crosswind for 36 LH at Wellesbourne

Crosswind for 36 LH at Wellesbourne

I made a nice approach and descent on Final, and we touched down relatively near the numbers (for a change!). We taxyed in towards the tower and onto the grass to park, and Sean spotted some friends that he’d mentioned might possibly be meeting us at the airfield. We headed over towards them, and made our introductions before heading up to the Tower to pay the landing fee.

Over the usual excellent lunch in the Cafe we chatted away about all things aviation, before heading back to the aircraft for the journey home. While waiting to depart the aircraft that head just took off was given a bit of a talking to over failing to follow the noise abatement departure, which was a useful reminder to me not to do the same!

After climbing out and following the circuit around we headed out towards the South. I took care to keep to the right of track so as to avoid the rocket launch site, and we headed towards the Moreton in Marsh disused. We were significantly right of track when we spotted this, but it was a simple matter to head towards it to pass overhead. At this point I made the initial call to Brize Radar asking for a Basic Service and permission to transit their Zone. I was immediately told to ‘Remain Clear of Controlled Airspace’, and instructed to call them back on their Zone frequency.

We were quickly given clearance to transit the Zone, and Little Rissington soon came into sight, followed by the expanse of open tarmac that is Brize itself. On this leg we heard the Controller issue an Instruction to another aircraft:

‘Avoiding action, immediate turn to xxx, traffic 12 O’Clock, 5 miles, 3000 feet below’

I was a little surprised at the urgency of this call given the distances involved, but I guess they were in danger of busting the minimum separation between the two aircraft (I think it’s 3nm laterally or 3000 feet vertically) otherwise.

Sean snapped some shots in the overhead of Brize (there seemed to be a lot more aircraft on the ground than I remember seeing during my training there) and we made the turn to head back towards Lyneham. We would be passing close by Fairford, so I double checked that both the MATZ and ATZ were both ‘cold’, and was given confirmation that they were.

A busy apron at RAF Brize Norton

A busy apron at RAF Brize Norton

As we headed towards Fairford we were given a Lyneham squawk in readiness for what I assumed would be a handover. However, as we were near the overhead of Fairford we were told to ‘Freecall’ Lyneham (implying they wouldn’t have our details) which was a little odd.

On the initial call I asked for vectors to an ILS approach (the frequency seemed fairly quiet) and this was granted. We were given what I thought was a relatively shallow intercept (meaning we intercepted the localiser closer to Lyneham than we normally would) but the ILS approach were pretty well on the whole. We were treated to a slight rain shower as we descended, before I reported ‘Final’ and was given clearance to land.

Short final for 24

Short final for 24

Ended up on a slightly low and draggy approach, but easily corrected onto a more appropriate glideslope. Again I made a good landing close to the numbers, and coasted easily down to walking speed in plenty of time to make the turnoff for the 18 loop. We headed back to the Club parking area, refuelled the aircraft and pushed it back into the parking area.

The Route and Track

The Route and Track

This was a pretty enjoyable flight on the whole. Wellesbourne is always a good place to visit, and it was nice to be able to (hopefully!) pass on a few things to Sean as he starts out on his PPL training. I just hope he doesn’t get a few hours further in and says something like “But Andy didn’t do it that way…” to his Instructor! Hopefully we’ll be able to make more flights in a similar vein in the future.

Total flight time today: 2:00
Total flight time to date: 154:50

3 Responses to “Back to Wellesbourne with a low hours Student Pilot”

  1. An afternoon jaunt to Glorious Goodwood. « Andy’s Blog Says:

    […] Andy’s Blog Poker, flight and anything else that comes to mind. « Back to Wellesbourne with a low hours Student Pilot […]

  2. Leia Says:

    Flying with new people and doubly so with youngsters is great! I’m sure it will help him too. The flights along with others I had when learning were so motivational, both in seeing how it was done and in realising it really was “normal, real” people who managed it…

  3. Andy Hawkins Says:

    You can tell we haven’t met Leia. Not sure the ‘normal’ bit would be agreed upon by everyone! 🙂

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